Adventures in Africa

Chapter 10 - "No, I don't want to go to Zambia"

On the crater rim we are surprised to discover that there is a loud sound of steam going out of the crater. To our disappointment there is no sign of red lava. Tali, who feels cheated by the lava, wants to go and visit the crater right now, in the dark. Our guide does not want to go with us. It's too dangerous he says. We decide to give up and go to sleep on the edge of the crater floor.

An hour before sun rise, with the first pale light of the morning, we are already on our feet exploring the crater. What we see is overwhelming. It looks like a "moon volcano" full with big steaming cones of volcanic ash. Any description by words is to fail, so I'll give the pictures the stage...

Tali standing next to an ash vent.

Tali standing over a frozen lava canal.

A family photo over Lengai's crater.

By the way, after we got back to Israel we discovered that on the web there is a very interesting site about Ol Doinyo Lengai !

On our way back to Arusha, the relationship between the driver and us deteriorates. When we go out of Ngare Sero river camping, the guide wants us to pay the camping fees. We tell him no. In the end he pays, but he "punishes" us by not giving food (except from boiled potatoes). We don't care at all, we are still exhilarated by what we have seen on Lengai's summit. We sleep all the way to Arusha, where we arrive after the closure time of Pizza Arusha. We want to eat in our "hotel", but the kitchen is close, so we give the cook some of our spaghetti to make it for us. Next morning we go to the agency to settle things out. We understand that the problem was with the guide. The agency gave him enough money for everything, including excellent food, but he tried to use as little as possible in order to take the difference to his pocket. The agency gives us some money as compensation, which we give the driver as a tip. In the evening we celebrate our last day in Arusha in,... Pizza Arusha.

Next day is entirely inside the bus which takes us from Arusha to Mbeya, a town close to the Zambian border. The bus leaves at 6 o'clock in the morning and should arrive at 6 in the afternoon. Practically it crosses all of Tanzania. This bus drive is the transition point in our trip from the planned part to the unknown. During the last 7 weeks we heard from fellow travelers all sorts of stories about every country in the area and have developed gradually a plan for the remaining 6 weeks.

  1. We decide that we are not interested to stay any longer in Tanzania. Even the stories about Zanzibar are not attracting us.
  2. We would like first to visit 2 friends of mine in Zambia, Bupe and Lukas. Bupe is a white Zambian. His parents immigrated to Zambia from England, and they work both as English teachers. They have bought there a small farm as a hobby, and nowadays Bupe tries to make it run commercially. I met Bupe and Lukas while a 3 months trainee-ship in Switzerland organized by the student organization Aiesec. Lukas is a Swiss, although his father is Nigerian. Like that his skin color is like chocolate. For us, the whites, he looks black, and for the Zambians he (amazingly !) looks whiteŗ Lukas is visiting his friend Bupe for already 3 months, and now we are about to visit both of them in Bupe∆s place. We feel as the Israeli song says "No, I don't want to go to Zambia". We heard it is a country which has no facilities for tourists at all, and the reason we go there is Bupe and Lukas.
  3. We plan to visit Malawi for 2 major attractions - Hiking in the Mulanje mountains and relaxing on the shores of Lake Malawi.
  4. As a dessert we would like to go to Zimbabwe (former Rhodesia), the most developed country in Africa after South Africa. Amongst the attractions are Victoria Falls, Rafting in the Zambezi river, Hwange National Park (The park with the densest population of elephants in the world) and the high standard of living for which we long after so many weeks in very undeveloped countries.

The bus ride is discovered to be a culinary experience. In every stop there is something else to eat. In the closest point to Dar es Salaam, the Muslim capital of the country, we eat a goat leg on BBQ. The preferred meat of the Muslims. Later on we eat an interesting omelet with chips. A less nice aspect of the drive is the bribe-stops. Every hour or so the bus is stopped by the police. They find something wrong with it and then ask for money in order not to give a ticket. Then a negotiation about how much the driver should pay begins, and it takes sometimes half an hour till the 2 sides agree. Because of these bribe-stops we arrive more than 4 hours late to Mbeya, and hardly find a place to sleep.

Next morning we take a matatu to the Zambian border. We agree about the price (less than his "starting price") before sitting inside. Later on, while talking with the fellow travelers, I discover that the true price is much less. When the money collector comes I give him the right price and explain why. It works.

We arrive to the border, get out of the bus and cross the border on foot.

Getting out of Tanzania is smooth.

Getting in to Zambia isn't such at all.

The border is the most deserted that we've seen in the world. Only one money changer and very few snacks vendors. We are the only ones in the border post, so the clerk handles our passports very slowly. We ask him when does the daily train leaves, and he replies "In an hour". We fill the forms. We write that we would like to stay a month in Zambia (we always write double time than we really want, just to be in the safe side). The clerk is shocked. "What are you going to do in Zambia for a full month?" he asks. We explain that we have a Zambian friend and that we want to tour the country. He goes to consult another clerk and we meanwhile buy some peanuts. When he returns after several minutes he looks at the peanuts in such big eyes that I give him some. "How much money do you have?" he continues the investigation. We show him several hundreds of dollars in travelers cheques and our credit cards, but he doesn't look satisfied. We are amazed - what we showed him is more than what he will earn in a full year! He goes again to consult the other clerk. We ask him politely to hurry up since the train leaves in half an hour. He returns after 10 full minutes with the other clerk. "You know, the train leaves in 20 minutes" says the other clerk. "Yes, we surely know", we reply bitterly. Then the other clerk starts to ask the same questions again. Only when we hear the locomotive leaving the station the 2 clerks stamp the passports (the visa is only for 2 weeks!) and let us go. When I will tell this story to Bupe he will say that the clerks simply wanted a bribe.

We stand 3 hours in the border trying to hitch. Only 2 groups pass by. A group of whites from South Africa, in 3 nice and big land rovers, who return back home. They claim that they don't have "space" for us. We think differently. If they moved some stuff from the back seats to the baggage compartment they would have enough space. Apparently they simply don't want to take us. They ask us where we go after Zambia. When we tell them "Zimbabwe" they are relieved and say - "Yeah, Zimbabwe is a civilized place". The other group consists of second hand cars traders, but they will stay overnight here. They ask us "Why don't you wait for tomorrow's train?". Should us tell them that we are eager to be already in Bupe's comfortable house???

We succeed to find a descent hotel and pass the time exploring the tiny market (only bananas, tomatoes and potatoes) and eating in the hotel's restaurant. Zambia looks like the least developed country in Africa so far. In the night I tell Tali not to worry about Zambia: In Kasama (The biggest town in north Zambia, where Bupe lives), or the way we call it, Kus-Amak (I will not translate it and just add that it's in Arabic), we will certainly find everything. I tell Tali that surely there are paved roads in Kus-Amak as well as a branch of McDonald. Fantasizing these "luxuries" we fall asleep.

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Last modified: Sun Sep 29th 1305:00 IST 2002